Rick Tocchet is (was?) a respected assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, and during his 18 years as a player in the NHL, he was one of only four players in NHL history to collect 400 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes. He also apparently has a lifelong goal of being a member of The Sopranos. Watch out, James Gandolfini. He even set it up in New Jersey despite the fact he lives in Phoenix. Just proves all crime happens in The Garden State.
Not too long ago, Tocchet was identified as the moneyman behind a sophisticated illegal gambling ring, accounting for $1.7 million in bets, some of them placed by NHL players and others connected to hockey. He even managed to smear the name of Wayne Gretzky, whose wife, Janet Jones, was identified as one of the betters. The furor has died down ‘ for the time being. But Tocchet is far from the first athlete to get embroiled in the underworld of sports gambling, and it’s not just professionals. Many college athletes have been caught in the web as well.
The 1951 Point-Shaving Scandal
The biggest scandal in college basketball history involved 35 active and former college basketball players between 1947 and 1951 who were accused of fixing at least 86 games. Twenty players ended up being convicted as well as 14 gamblers.
Jack Molinas, Sherman White, Ralph Beard and Alex Groza were just some of the players who cost themselves their careers. Molinas bet on his own team, Columbia University, and he was banned by the NBA for life. Groza and Beard were All-Americans at Kentucky and first-round NBA draft picks by the Indianapolis Olympians before the allegations came out. They were also banned for life. The biggest trouble came for the 6-foot-8 White, the LIU forward who would have been drafted by the Knicks but was barred from the NBA and later served nine months in prison for fixing games.
Tulane and Cocaine
In 1985, five Tulane basketball players were accused of point-shaving in two games because they really needed to buy cocaine. One of the players busted was John “Hot Rod” Williams, who netted about $8,550 for three shaved games. After a mistrial, the charges against Williams were dropped and he went on to a solid career in the NBA.
BC was involved in two major gambling scandals. During the 1978-79 season, basketball player Rick Kuhn hooked up with mob figure Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame) to fix nine games. Kuhn brought in teammates Jim Sweeney and Ernie Cobb to join in, and they got about $10,000 for their efforts. Kuhn picked up a point-shaving record 10-year sentence, which was later reduced to 28 months. Neither Sweeney nor Cobb was charged.
The Boston College football team got into the act in 1996. After losing 45-17 to Syracuse, BC football coach Dan Henning heard that some players might have bet against themselves. He told university officials and, as a result, 13 players were suspended for the rest of the season and six were banned permanently.
The Final Four
In June 2003, University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel was fired for participating in March Madness pools. Neuheisel, though, had the last laugh. The NCAA found that a Washington compliance officer said that participating in off-campus pools was okay. Neuheisel sued the university for wrongful termination and won a $4.5 million settlement.